Friday, 12 July 2013

Part-time work (full time play!)

This image from a graduate jobs 
website,
illustrates their part-time 
page. The page is aimed at
students looking to supplement their
grant rather than people who
might choose to work part-time. 
I was interested to see this article by Zoe Williams on part-time work in The Guardian yesterday, as I've long thought part-time work could be the answer to many problems. I'm always surprised that organisations like The Work Foundation seem to have so little to say about part-time working. 

On reading Zoe Williams's article, however, I felt deflated and cross. She sets out some of the benefits of part-time work, although these are mainly from the point of view of the employer: Hey, did you not realise your part-time employees are really really efficient and bright-eyed and lovely!! She goes on to blame women for not standing up and saying: "I am totally cool and amazing because I work part-time!" 

From an Australian website
on multi-tasking. I seriously 

do do this sometimes, LOL. 
(While simultaneously cooking
breakfast. and feeding the cat) 
Oh good. Another job to do then. Not only shall I do my currently contracted job, look out for new contracts, keep the Piglet and Fella fed, shop for, wash and iron the clothes, discipline Piglet and keep an eye on the Outlaw relatives .... where was I? Oh yes, in my spare time I must become an activist and lobby people about how gorgeous I am because I work part-time so they get some other people to work part-time too. 

It happens that I have struggled long and hard to convince academic institutions that they would benefit from taking on more part-time workers - or at least one more (smiles hopefully), so I know all about the inherent sexism with which employers are prone to dismiss part-time parents as not committed to Real Work. (Not that academic men are sexist, of course. I have frequently seen them at the end of feminist seminars, say they would love to stay and contribute more but they have to get home for childcare reasons - coincidentally at the same time as the pubs are about to open.) 

What are the benefits of part-time work? 

From Asterix in Britain, and my
blogpost on Lawn Meditation
Well, the benefits for me are, I can juggle my work around my family responsibilities, and get these done in a mad rush instead of a completely psychotic scramble. I also sometimes get to sneak off when it's a nice day and weed in the garden or go to the shops instead of sweating in an office somewhere. (I might find this less attractive when I can spend my weekends weeding and shopping instead of cooking and running about after people, LOL.) 

Some of my students have just been writing about whether there is a link between economic growth and wellbeing. Politicians are always proclaiming gleefully that GDP has gone up! but - even if you know what GDP is (LOL, the students and I all do now), does that actually make you better off in the broadest sense? There is no denying that we are materially better off, yet we are always harking back to the Good Old Days when children had no shoes but there was more community spirit, or better pubs, or something. 


From Asterix online
One of the pieces of evidence some of the students have used is the fact that in France there is lower GDP but people work fewer hours, so they may be said to have a better life-work balance. In the old days, the British were so infamous for their nine-to-five culture that the comic book Asterix in Britain starts off with Julius Caesar successfully conquering them because the evil cad only fights after five and at weekends. Yet the TUC tells us that now workers in Britain work the longest hours in Europe, with the shortest lunch-breaks. I often have people say to me "a part-time job means part-time pay, full-time hours," and I say: "Yes, but a full time job means a job and a half. I can do a full time job, I can't juggle my family and a job and a half." 

There is a fair bit of research scattered around, some of which Zoe Williams draws on, trying to tell employers that part-time workers are more efficient and more focussed. There can be some fringe benefits, for example, in academia if you offer a job-share you will get two REF submissions for the price of one job. If one of your employees is unwell, you can ask the other one to temporarily step up their hours if you need the additional input. I could go on. 

The real benefit, though, would be to the economy and society at large. 
  • More part time workers, more job-shares, means more jobs. This means fewer people are signing on as unemployed so the State wouldn't have to be paying out as much money in benefits. 
  • More people in work, less depression and anxiety, lower healthcare bills. 
  • More people with better work-life balance, less depression and anxiety, lower healthcare bills. 
  • More people with additional leisure time, more parental input to children, brighter and happier children achieving better and contributing to the economy in the future. 
  • More people with additional leisure time, they are likely to look around and find ways to volunteer, doing enjoyable activities which also contribute to the community. (I imagine that this is no longer the case, as most of us housewives now take our spare time seriously and expect cash if we are doing something that looks this much like a job. However Meals on Wheels used to be entirely delivered by bored volunteer housewives in the WI.) 
  • Women make up the large share of the part-time sector, sometimes doing very high level jobs in this way, continuing to provide good role models to girls as they grow up expecting to work rather than stay home and polish stuff. (Nails, silverware, portfolios.) 
  • Women are most likely to work part-time, research shows that when women earn, that money is more likely to be spent on the family and especially children, benefiting future generations and giving them a better start in life. 

I don't see it as my job to promote the benefits of part-time work. I think politicians should look more seriously into what part-time work could do. In fact I think they should make it compulsory that if a new job is advertised, it has to be advertised as a job-share or part-time post first. Only when the employee has been in post for a year or more could they negotiate going full time if they and the employer chose to agree to this. It is really not working to say to employers, "Now, when a silly woman comes along with a baby hanging off one arm and asks to do just half the job you have advertised instead of taking it seriously, you must treat her just like a man whose silly woman got his suit dry-cleaned for him. You don't have to actually give her a job of course, wink wink. Just pretend that you might." 

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